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Arizona inmate gets life term for killing couple

  • Associated Press
  • June 3, 2014 - 5:55 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Arizona inmate convicted of kidnapping and murdering a retired Oklahoma couple in New Mexico after he escaped from prison was sentenced Tuesday to life behind bars without the chance of parole.

U.S. District Judge Judith Herrera officially handed down the sentence to John McCluskey, who also received a consecutive term of 235 years. The 49-year-old declined to read a statement at his sentencing.

McCluskey was convicted in October of 20 counts of aggravated murder, carjacking and other charges for the August 2010 slayings of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Oklahoma.

But jurors deliberating the sentencing for McCluskey failed to reach a unanimous verdict, deciding they couldn't agree on the death penalty. That earned McCluskey an automatic life sentence, which wasn't made official until Tuesday.

"With the help of his conspirators, John Charles McCluskey mercilessly killed two innocent victims and burned their bodies as he fled law enforcement after escaping from prison," Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said. "Our thoughts are with those whose lives were changed forever by these heinous crimes."

McCluskey was serving 15 years for attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault and discharge of a firearm when he and two other prisoners escaped from a medium-security prison near Kingman, Arizona, in July 2010 with the help of McCluskey's cousin and fiancee, Casslyn Welch.

One of the inmates was quickly captured after a shootout with authorities in Colorado, while McCluskey, Welch and inmate Tracy Province headed to New Mexico.

The victims, high school sweethearts and recent retirees, were making their 11th summer trip to Colorado when they were kidnapped and killed for their truck and travel trailer, authorities said.

The defense argued that McCluskey had a low IQ and has suffered a hard life of abuse, brain damage and addiction. Prosecutors called him a remorseless, cold-blooded killer.

Province and Welch pleaded guilty to carjacking resulting in death, conspiracy, use of a firearm during a violent crime and other charges. They both fingered McCluskey as the triggerman.

Earlier this week, Province, 46, was sentenced to five consecutive terms of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Welch was sentenced to 40 years.

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